Rex Ryan has been talking tough from the moment he set foot in Buffalo last January. He was going to build a bully and back down from no one, least of all the hated Patriots. Put it up on your bulletin board, see what he cares.
Well, someone finally talked back. The Patriots came into a rocking Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday and issued the Bills a stern tongue-lashing, handing them a 40-32 defeat that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score suggests.
Bill Belichick and the Pats don’t do much yapping. They have the natural swagger that comes from winning four Super Bowls and dominating the AFC East for a generation. Belichick doesn’t win many news conferences. But he owned Ryan in the only forum that really matters, the final scoreboard.
Ryan had scoffed during the week when asked if Belichick’s drab, taciturn manner contributed to his success. Did anyone really believe that muzzling his players might have helped him win the Super Bowl with the Jets?
Well, maybe being dull doesn’t help you win. But if Sunday was any indication, being too emotionally volatile can contribute to a loss. Yes, football is an emotional game. But there’s a fine line between playing with an edge and playing dumb. And the Bills crossed that line against the Pats.
“I’m embarrassed,” said defensive tackle Kyle Williams. “There’s a difference between coming out fired up and ready to play, and coming out and being totally without poise, without focus, doing a lot of stupid, idiotic stuff.
“That plays right into their hands. It looks bad for us, bad for our fans. It’s inexcusable and it’s terrible.”
Ryan has brought a new sense of confidence to the town and the team. But if he’s going to be lionized for firing up the troops, he also has to take the blame for failing to have their feet on the ground at game time in the biggest game in more than a decade.
The Bills weren’t ready. Yes, they scored on their opening possession. But then they came unraveled, committing a succession of penalties that were largely the result of overaggression and, as Williams said, a lack of composure.
They were called for six penalties on special teams in the first quarter. They were whistled for two personal fouls (Corey Graham, Duke Williams) on the same punt return. Aaron Williams had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Do you think the defensive backs were a tad overhyped for Tom Brady?
Ryan even got into the act, getting tagged for unsportsmanlike conduct for mouthing off at the officials after an offensive pass interference call in the third quarter. He claimed not to recall his offending comment.
“They only had 11 penalties; we had 14,” Ryan said. “I guess the refs thought they came to see them today.”
The Bills had 14 penalties for 140 yards. They led the league in penalty yards in the opener, so this qualifies as an early trend. To his credit, Ryan admitted his team can’t afford such lapses of discipline.
“You should play with emotion,” Ryan said, “but sometimes you let your emotions get the better of you, and it went to our detriment. It starts with me. Obviously, I have to control my emotions better, regardless of how bad things are going.”
Ryan was clearly distressed when he got to the interview room. I suspect it had more to do with the dreadful play of his defense than the officiating. For all the talk about his previous success in defending Brady, he got embarrassed in his first chance against Brady as the Bills’ head man.
Brady was at his surgical best, completing 38 of 59 for 466 yards. The 466 yards were the most ever in one game against the Bills. George Blanda’s record had stood for 54 years. Brady never stopped throwing, even when the Pats had a 24-point lead and merciful, conservative coaches would have been milking the clock.
You got the feeling Belichick was saying, “So you’re the best at stopping Brady, Rex? See if you can stop us from dropping 500 yards on you. ”
“It gave us a chance in the game,” Ryan said of the Pats’ decision to keep throwing. “I was happy with it. That’s what we wanted them to do.”
Why not? The Bills couldn’t stop them. Once again, just when people were ready to shower them with greatness, the defense came up small in a big game. None of the celebrated pass rushers had an impact. Afterward, they said there wasn’t much they could do with Brady getting rid of the ball so fast.
Well, the Bills have invested more than $250 million in their front four, presumably so they can catch up to Brady after 15 years. But if the Quarter Billion Club can’t get to him, what’s the point? Could anyone have expected him to be that good?
“I couldn’t forecast how bad we were, that’s how I look at it,” Kyle Williams said. “We’ve got to be better.”
Brady is the best ever, but he isn’t the only quarterback in the NFL who gets rid of the ball quickly. That’s how the league is trending. It’s a passing league. It doesn’t matter how much you pay your pass rushers, or how big you talk if you can’t measure up at the game’s most important position.
Tyrod Taylor wasn’t up to the task in his second NFL start. He threw for three TDs and ran for one. But much of his stats came late. Early in the game, he was skittish in the pocket and uncertain with his throws.
His teammates didn’t help Taylor by putting him in a big hole with their undisciplined play and shoddy defense. It’s unfair to compare Taylor with the best QB ever, or to expect him to engage in a shootout with Brady at this stage of his career as a starter.
“I’m not sure I would want anyone to get in a duel with” Brady, Kyle Williams said. “We let our team down today and we got to get better. I’m going to get better; we’re going to do better.”
Williams, the elder statesman, saw the bright side of this loss. He said it could be the best learning experience for the Bills in his 10-year career. It’s no disgrace to lose to the Super Bowl champs. The disgrace was how they conducted themselves with the nation looking on. That’s the part they can work on.
So there’s no reason to jump off the Peace Bridge. The Bills are 1-1 after two games against the teams that played for the conference title last season. That’s as good as most people could have expected. They’ll put this behind the, same as they did the Colts win, and move ahead to Miami.
Rex isn’t going to change because of one game. That’s a good thing. But maybe his team needed a good humbling. On Sunday, they looked like a bully who takes one shot in the kisser and goes crying home to mother.